Fri 27 Nov 2020

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Powerful economic names are missing from the presidency of  Damascus and Aleppo’s Chambers of Commerce 

Businessmen Mohammed Fadel Katerji and Wasim Anwar al-Qattan ( Edited by Enab Baladi)

Businessmen Mohammed Fadel Katerji and Wasim Anwar al-Qattan ( Edited by Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Nour al-Deen Ramadan

On 25 October, Damascus and Aleppo’s Chambers of Commerce announced the two chambers’ Executive Bureau elections winners. The two businessmen close to the Syrian regime, Mohammed Fadel Katerji, and Wasim Anwar al-Qattan, against the expectations, lost the presidential race.

The disappearance of important names from leadership positions in the two chambers raised the question about the direction that the Syrian regime wants to take from suggesting new names, especially since an official settled the controversy surrounding manipulating Damascus’s election results. This directly reflects the policy of the Syrian regime.

Al-Qattan does not win election of Damascus’s Chamber of Commerce 

Muhammad Abu al-Hoda al-Lahham has won the Damascus Chamber of Commerce presidency election, in a step described by economic sites as a “surprise,” following the Executive Bureau elections. Thus, the leading candidate in terms of influence and proximity to the Syrian regime, Wasim Anwar al-Qattan, a businessman who is also subject to the USA, the EU, and the UK’s sanctions, lost the presidential race. 

On 28 October, al-Lahham completed his control over commerce’s chambers by electing him as the chairman of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce board.

The Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, Talal al-Barazi, who previously held the position of Governor of Homs, and is known for his direct close ties with the Republican Palace, approved the elections of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, to end the controversy raised about “electoral fraud and falsification” and about what was confirmed by the objection submitted to the Ministry through the chamber’s management, by several candidates who did not win the elections, as reported by the state-run al-Baath newspaper.

Wasim Anwar al-Qattan was expected to win the chamber’s presidency due to his influence and close ties with the Syrian regime. Besides, he obtained second place in the number of votes in the Damascus Chamber of Commerce membership elections, only ten votes away from first place.

Wasim Anwar al-Qattan was born in Damascus in 1976. His name splashed in the economic sector in early 2019, surprisingly, after investing in government facilities with millions of Syrian pounds. He owns the “La Rosa Furniture” and “Hot Bakery.”

Al-Qattan held the position of president of the Damascus Countryside Chamber of Commerce in the previous session after the Minister of Commerce’s decision to dissolve the council in February 2018.  He also invested in “Qasiyon Mall,” Damascus one billion and 200 million Syrian pounds, which raised a question about the party behind the unknown name at the time.

Katerji gets away

In Aleppo, Muhammad Fadil Katerji also lost the presidency of the Chamber of Commerce to businessman Muhammad Amer Hamwi.

Muhammad Fadel Katerji, known as Muhammad Agha, is not on the sanctions list as is his brother Hussam Katerji, but he got assigned in the chamber as a representative of the Katerji family and its commercial companies, which in turn are subject to sanctions. This limits Muhammad Fadel’s commercial movement with the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce.

The Katerji family owns the Katerji International Group, which works in transport, investment, and trade, headed by Hussam Ahmad Katerji, who is close to the Syrian regime and is on the US sanctions list.

Several companies emanate from the group, the most prominent of which are “Roots for Agriculture and Livestock,” “The Katerji for Trade and Transport,” “White Gold Factory,” and “The Katerji for Real Estate Development and Investment.” They have a role in transporting fuel from areas controlled by the so-called “Islamic State” or “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in north-eastern Syria.

It is noted that most of the winning candidates in Aleppo’s Chamber of Commerce were among those who have made fortunes during the past few years.

With their loss of presidency of the two chambers in Damascus and Aleppo, Wasim Anwar al-Qattan obtained membership in the Damascus Chamber’s board of directors, while Katerji won the secretariat of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce.

Two reasons behind losing presidency

The  Syrian researcher at the “Middle East Institute” in Washington, Dr.Karam Shaar, believes that the loss of Wasim al-Qattan and Muhammad Fadil Katerji as the chairs of the chambers of commerce in the two largest Syrian cities reflects two things. The first is the new law’s outcome on which the candidacy for membership and the election mechanism were based, and the second is the end of the old economic class, which has been present almost completely throughout Syria since 2011.

The new Chambers of Commerce law, which was issued last April, to run for elections, stipulates that the membership of those who wish to run must pass two calendar years in addition to the year in which the elections are held, meaning that the person must be an affiliated member before 1 January 2018.

The Syrian regime has increased its interest in merchants and their chambers in conjunction with the stifling economic crisis that it is suffering during the current year.

Upon assuming his duties, the Minister of Internal Trade, Talal al-Barazi, visited Damascus Chamber of Commerce last June, the first visit of a Trade Minister in 47 years. Al-Barazi said, “The homeland has seen the merchants of Damascus in the present and the past taking a lot of initiatives towards the homeland and the citizens.”

In past years, the relationship between the merchants and the Syrian regime is characterized by ambiguity. Merchants were accused of supporting the Syrian regime and preventing its economic collapse for protecting their interests. 

But in actuality, at the beginning of the revolution, anyone who refused to deal with the Syrian regime and refused to pay royalties was threatened. This is why some big businessmen left Syria, including the Chairman of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Industry and Damascus Chamber of Industry, Imad Ghraywati, whose money was seized and later confiscated.

Exclusion of Syrian economy’s old guards 

For the first time, well-known names in the commercial arena were absent from the positions of chambers of commerce. Seven members of the previous Board of Directors of Damascus Chamber of Commerce did not run for elections.

The most prominent of them are the Vice-President of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce, Mohammad Ghassan al-Qallaa ( He is also a board member at the Damascus Chamber of Commerce since 1973), Muhammad Hamsho, who has been the Secretary of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce and the Secretary of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce since 2014 and the Vice-Presidents of Damascus Chamber of Commerce; the first Ammar al-Bardan, the second Irfan Drakel, and others.

Al-Qallaa and major Damascene merchants, like Ratib al-Shalah, are among the old guards of the Syrian state; they are trying to prevent the collapse of the state’s institutions and currency from their point of view. This explains their support for the Syrian governments in facing any economic crisis.

Who are the new presidents?

President of Damascus Chamber of Commerce

Abu al-Hoda al-Lahham (aged 77 years) is the owner of “al-Lahham For Trading & Contracting.

– Member of the Board of Directors of Bank “Jordan – Syria”

-Member of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors since 2001.

– Member of the Office of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce

Merchants identify him as a reformer with forty years’ commercial experience

He was known for his supportive stances for the Syrian regime and openness to economic cooperation with Russia.

– He greatly promoted the reconstruction in Syria, regardless of the military operations, as he told a Russian agency in 2018, “I advise investors not to wait until the crisis is completely over.”

In 2011, he criticized the high cost of telecommunications in Syria and considered that it consumes about a quarter of a Syrian citizen’s income.

Chief of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce

Muhammad Amer Faris Hamwi is a member of the current Syrian People’s Assembly.

– His name was mentioned when his money was seized in 2019 for a period of two months before its cancellation in a case related to the Ministry of Education.

 

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